Lesser Sundas, Indonesia, November 1999

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT surfbirds.com)


by Tim Allwood, Olive Lodge, Stukeley Road, Huntingdon, Cambs, PE29 6HG, UK; allwoodt@aol.com


During 1999 and 2000 I was resident in Indonesia, and in Nov 1999 I made a three-week trip with my partner Claire Stephenson to the island of Flores in the Lesser Sundas in order to see some of the endemic birds of the region.

Due to unrest in Indonesia over the last couple of years the number of visitors has declined markedly. There are however many areas that are perfectly safe to visit at the time of writing, and the Lesser Sundas are one of these. The islands are still relatively unknown, and there is a real potential to improve ornithological knowledge of the area.

Flores is not so easy to reach but it is easy to get around, very cheap, and the people are friendly and helpful and notably restrained when compared to Javans.

The birding is wonderful and reasonably straightforward.

Essential Info

Malaria is present. Doxycycline is the current drug of choice and very cheap in Jakarta but can lead to nasty sunburn if you're not careful. I found an umbrella to be very useful as a sunshield. Otherwise no probs, apart from potential tidal-waves, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes....


The essential references are Birding Indonesia by Paul Jepson and Birds of Wallacea by Coates and Bishop. Birds of Sumatra, Java and Bali may also be of some limited use. Paul's guide has all the site directions you need and other invaluable info to boot.


I managed to get hold of a good tape from some birders whom I met in Java but I dont know where it was from. If you're intending to visit drop me a line and I'll get a copy to you.

Getting there

We caught a ferry from Surabaya in eastern Java, booked in advance in Jakarta. The booking process was incredibly difficult, and it was impossible to secure a return ticket - not a problem as you can get back ok but you'll have to sleep on deck as you'll not be able to get a cabin. We had a cabin on the way and it was very comfortable. The interior of the boats can be very cramped, and I'm sure you'd rather sleep on deck after seeing and smelling the conditions. When embarking/disembarking wait until the Indonesians have finished as the melee can be pretty scary with fighting commonplace, such is the demand for a piece of prime floorspace etc.

The journey was excellent for birds and cetaceans and worth doing in its own right. Otherwise It's probably easier to fly.

Getting Around

It's possible to hitch more or less everywhere and it's polite to offer something such as cigarettes or a small amount of cash. Buses will pick you up from the side of the road and are very cheap. Bemos can be chartered for about Rp50,000 ($6) per half day if you like.

Sites Visited

We concentrated on western Flores as this is where all the endemics can be encountered, and it also has most of the remaining forests. All the sites are well described in Paul Jepson's book so I won't go over the boring stuff here.


Your probable point of arrival and a good base. Lots of cheap places to stay, notably the Gardena in the centre of town; great food and view and nice little cabins. The dirt track that leads to the New Bajo Beach Hotel south of town is a good spot for Elegant Pitta and Moluccan Scops Owl, and after c.2kms it leads to a small wetland area that was very productive at the end of the dry season. The scrubby hills around town are also a good area to bird and hold the commoner species.

Road to Rareng

Get a lift from the road in town on a bemo or bus for c.10 km until you reach this junction on the north side of the road. Cost is minimal or even free if you get a friendly driver as I did. Simply alight here and walk up the road, birding as you go. I did come across one very vicious dog here so watch out! A good site for Green Junglefowl, Wallace's Hanging Parrot, Flores Crow and Great-billed Parrot among others. To return just walk back to the main road and wait for a lift.


A couple of wetlands a few km south of 'bajo and best accessed by boat. The guys at the dive shop almost opposite the Gardena took us for about Rp25,000 each.


A telecommunications station between 'bajo and Ruteng best known as the site for Flores Monarch. Catch any bus to Ruteng and get off at the entrance road. Bird this road (100 m long) and the trail into the forest at the top off the road. We found this area quiet for passerines but good for raptors. The monarch was very elusive and it took around 7-8 hrs to discover.


Four hours give or take a puncture or two from 'bajo. Best place to stay is probably the Hotal Dahlia. There's a good restuarant a few doors up with mainly Chinese food. You could eat at one of the basic Padang places in town but they're not the best intro to this excellent food. There are several sites in the area; the hills to the south of town are excellent for many of the endemics. The forest here is being hacked to death, and the trail described by Jepson has now been totally cleared, as has the north side of the mountain. There is already some quite bad erosion to be seen.

Pong Toda

Worth a half day but note that it is west, not east of Ruteng as in Jepson's book. The track that he mentions leading into Casuarina forest is a little tricky to find and a couple of hundred metres further than stated. This was the only place I saw Black-backed Fruit-dove.

Lake Ranamese

An excellent place, very picturesque and peaceful. We had all the Dark-eyes here as well as White-backed Kingfisher and Bare-throated Whistler.

Gunung Ranaka

Another essential stop. The access road is now virtually impossible to pass. We cajoled our driver into reaching km 6 of 8 but it was such difficult going we'd have been better to walk. Good for Chestnut-backed Thrush but we had more luck with them south of Ruteng.

Komodo and Rinca

Well, you have to go and see the dragons don't you? Small islands, so not many species but quality rather than quantity. Komodo is probably the best place in the world now to catch up with Yellow-crested Cockatoo, and you should see Great-billed Heron in the vicinity. Our guide, who was a good birder despite not having any bins claimed Timor Black Pigeon occurs?

Other Islands

There are several very small islands to visit for snorkelling etc which is absolutely fantastic here. Ask at the dive shop in 'bajo.

Species Lists

List of Birds Observed (follows Coates and Bishop 1997)

(endemics to Flores/Sumbawa in bold)

Bulwer's Petrel - 1 north of Komodo
Streaked Shearwater - Small groups in Flores Sea
Wedge-tailed Shearwater - Small groups in Flores Sea
Red-throated Little Grebe - 2 Ranamese, 2 Dolat
Red-tailed Tropicbird - 1 north of Sumbawa
Great Frigatebird - 1 positive ID off 'bajo
Lesser Frigatebird - Frequently encountered
Little Pied Cormorant - 1 Ranamese, a few south of 'bajo
Red-footed Booby - Frequently encountered in Flores Sea
Brown Booby - Frequently encountered in Flores Sea
Abbotts'Booby - 1 north of Flores appeared to be this sp.
Great-billed Heron - c.6 between 'bajo and Rinca, 1 Komodo
Purple Heron - A few around 'bajo and Dolat
Intermediate Egret - A few around 'bajo and Dolat
White-faced Heron - 1 Dolat
Little Egret - Frequently encountered
Pacific Reef Egret - Common around islands
Cattle Egret - Max. 50 near Dolat
Javan Pond-Heron - 2 near Dolat
Little Heron - A few here and there
Rufous Night Heron - 3 ads and 2 imms at Dolat; only a couple of previous recs and none of breeding
Cinnamon Bittern - 1 flushed near Dolat
Woolly-necked Stork - 2 near Dolat
Oriental Honey-buzzard - 11 in off the sea from west
Black-winged Kite - 2 south of 'bajo
Brahminy Kite - Several encountered
White-bellied Sea-Eagle - 7 around Rinca, 2 Komodo
Chinese Goshawk - A pair at Puarolo (first island record?)
Variable Goshawk - A few; Rareng road, Komodo
Brown Goshawk Poss - 1 at Ranamese
Japanese Sparrowhawk - 2 south of 'bajo, 1 road to Rareng
Bonelli's Eagle - 1 near Ruteng
Rufous-bellied Eagle - 2 at Puarolo
Changeable Hawk-eagle - 1 stunner at c.2200 m on Gunung Ranaka
Spotted Kestrel - Scaterred individuals, 1 Rinca
Wandering Whistling Duck - c.400 south of 'bajo, 100 Dolat
Lesser Whistling Duck - c.200 south of 'bajo, 50 Dolat
Sunda Teal - c.20 south of 'bajo, 20 Dolat
Pacific Black Duck - c.20 south of 'bajo, 30 Dolat
Orange-footed Scrubfowl - A few Komodo
Green Junglefowl - c.6 Komodo, 4 Road to Rareng
Buff-banded Rail - 1 south of 'bajo
White-browed Crake - 1 south of 'bajo
White-breasted Waterhen - Few Ranamese
Common Moorhen - Few Ranamese, few south of 'bajo
Black-winged Stilt - 9 south of 'bajo (sub. sp. Leoucocephalus)
Pacific Golden Plover - 2 south of 'bajo
Kentish (Javan) Plover - 9 south of 'bajo (first island rec)
Greater Sand-Plover - 2 south of 'bajo
Whimbrel - 4 Sumbawa, 1 Rinca
Common Redshank - Few south of 'bajo
Common Greenshank - Few south of 'bajo
Marsh Sandpiper - up to 15 south of 'bajo on two days (second island record?)
Wood Sandpiper - Several south of 'bajo
Red-necked Stint - 2 south of 'bajo
Broad-billed Sandpiper - 1 south of 'bajo (first island record)
Red-necked Phalarope - 1000s recorded at sea/between islands
Pomarine Jaeger - 1 north of Lombok, 1 north of Komodo
Whiskered Tern - Few north of Lombok and Bali
White-winged Black Tern - Only 1 positive ID near Surabaya
Gull-billed Tern - Few north of Lombok and Bali
Sterna sp - 3 north of Bali (Common/Roseate)
Black-naped Tern - Numerous at sea and on islets
Sooty Tern - 2 north of Komodo
Greater Crested Tern - Common offshore
Lesser Crested Tern - Several at sea between 'bajo and Komodo
Brown Noddy - 1 between 'bajo and Komodo
White-throated Pigeon - 1 on Komodo (first island record)
Island Collared Dove - A few Komodo
Spotted Dove - Common Flores, also Rinca and Komodo
Ruddy Cuckoo-dove - Several Ranamese
Barred Dove - Common Flores, also Rinca and Komodo
Black-backed Fruit-dove - 3 Pong Toda
Black-naped Fruit-dove - Several on road to Rareng
Green Imperial Pigeon - Several on road to Rareng, also Komodo
Rainbow Lorikeet - Several around Ruteng
Yellow-crested Cockatoo - c.15 on Komodo - all small groups
Great-billed Parrot - c.18 on Road to Rareng - low elevation
Rusty-breasted Cuckoo - 1 prob imm above Ruteng
Oriental Cuckoo - Common in montane forest
Common Koel - Common by voice - don't sound like the Australian subspecies
Lesser Coucal - Few seen on road to Rareng
Moluccan Scops-owl - 1 spotlighted south of 'bajo ,several heard
Large-tailed Nightjar - 1 above 'bajo
Edible-nest Swiftlet - Common
Glossy Swiftlet - Common
Fork-tailed Swift - 4 Komodo (first island record)
White-rumped Kingfisher - 1 Ranamese
Stork-billed Kingfisher - 1 Dolat
Collared Kingfisher - Common around the coast
Blue-tailed Bee-eater - Common around the coast
Common Dollarbird - 4 road to Rareng
Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker - A few here and there
Elegant Pitta - Many heard, 2 seen south of 'bajo. Almost crepuscular in behaviour.
Australasian Bushlark - Komodo, also near Dolat
Barn Swallow - Common
Pacific Swallow - Common
Striated Swallow - Several encountered
Grey Wagtail - 1 at c.2000 m on Gunung Ranaka
Richards Pipit - A few on Rinca
Wallacean Cuckoo-Shrike - 4 on Rinca
Pale-shouldered Cicadabird - 4 Pong Toda, 5 Ranamese
White-shouldered Triller - 1 Sumbawa
Little Minivet - Several Pong Toda, road to Rareng
Wallacean Drongo - Common
Black-naped Oriole - Common
Flores Crow - 5 seen, others heard, road to Rareng
Large-billed Crow - 4 south of 'bajo
Great Tit - Several
Pygmy Wren-Babbler - Common in montane areas
White-browed Shortwing - Only heard high on Gunung Ranaka
Chestnut-capped Thrush - Only 3 seen in a cage in 'bajo
Chestnut-backed Thrush - 1 on Gunung Ranaka, 3 in cages in Ruteng
Flyeater - Common in coastal areas
Mountain Tailorbird - Common in coastal areas
Arctic Warbler - Just a single, road to Rareng
Timor Leaf-Warbler - Common in montane areas
Russet-capped Tesia - Common
Yellow-breasted Warbler - Several in montane areas
Golden-headed Cisticola - Many around Pong Toda
Zitting Cisticola - Common
Little Pied Flycatcher - 2 Ranamese
Black-naped Monarch - Several
Asian Paradise Flycatcher - 1 road to Rareng
Flores Monarch - 2 Puarolo telecom station
Brown-capped Fantail - Common in montane areas
Common Golden Whistler - Several, especially at Puarolo
Bare-throated Whistler - Common south of Ruteng, also Ranamese
White-breasted Wood-swallow - Several around 'bajo and Rinca
Hill Myna - 4 road to Rareng, common in cages
Helmeted Friarbird - Common, also on Komodo
Scaly-crowned Honeyeater - Common in montane areas
Brown-throated Sunbird - A few
Olive-backed Sunbird - A few
Flame-breasted Sunbird - Common
Golden-rumped Flowerpecker - 1 road to Rareng
Black-fronted Flowerpecker - Common
Blood-breasted Flowerpecker - 1 Gunung Ranaka
Oriental White-eye - Several
Mountain White-eye - Common at Ranamese with above sp.
Yellow-spectacled White-eye - Common in lowlands
Lemon-bellied White-eye - Common around 'bajo and Komodo
Yellow-browed Dark-eye - Several in montane areas
Crested Dark-eye - Only at Ranamese c.6
Thick-billed Dark-eye - 1 south of Ruteng, 1 Ranamese and 1 at Puarolo
Tree Sparrow - Common
Zebra Finch - Many on Komodo
Black-faced Munia - Common in lowlands
Scaly-breasted Munia - Lots above Ruteng/Pong Toda
Five Coloured Munia - 1 above Ruteng
Possible Red Avadavat - Above Ruteng


Brydes Whale - 2 very close to shore near Java
Sperm Whale - 1 north of Bali
Dolphin spp - 1000s
False Killer Whale - 3 thought to be this sp north of Komodo
Minke Whale - 1 thought to be this sp north of Lombok

Species Missed:

Wallace's Hanging Parrot: I didn't get a sniff of these on the road to Rareng where they have been observed. Richard Grimmett did encounter some shortly afterwards. This was my big miss.

Flores Green Pigeon: Very rarely observed lowland species usually recorded from lowland sites east of Ruteng. See Kukila (1998/99)

Flores Scops Owl: Virtually unknown; 3 specimens from the 19th Century and I think there is a recent record too?.

Wallace's Scops Owl: Can be recorded on the road to Rareng but I didn't get out there at night

Russet-backed Jungle-Flycatcher: The only bird I missed that I could really have expected to see. Supposed to be reasonably common around Ranamese.

Read about Java (click here) and Sumatra (click here)